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SPRINGTIME IN AUTUMN?
As the art world eases into September and assesses the economic ravages of the summer months, it appears two things are clear: for one, the recession's impact may not have been entirely as bad as feared; for another, signs of the art-space equivalent of green shoots are popping up around the world. In the New York Times, Roberta Smith writes that the number of New York galleries that closed since the bust seems closer to 20 than the much higher numbers bandied about, and that many dealers who shut down say they plan to reopen when things get better. In the meantime, Smith writes, alternative spaces materializing in apartments, vacant storefronts, and other scrappy corners of the city are keeping the blood flowing. This phenomenon, which has been gradually creeping into light since the beginning of the summer, is happening in London, too, as well as Mexico City, which was hit exceptionally hard by the crunch.
MORE GOOD NEWS (EXCEPT AT THE MET)
In Berlin, meanwhile, mayor Klaus Wowereit is trying to give young artists a more permanent venue by campaigning for a new Kunsthalle dedicated to showing emerging talent. In France there's new hope for the arts, too, thanks to Sarkozy's appointment of Frédéric Mitterrand as minister of culture. The left-leaning writer and TV personality--and nephew of former Socialist president François Mitterrand--is expected to bring an open-minded éclat to the job, which presents as one of its first challenges the resolution of a dispute with Christie's over the country's droit de suite. What's that you ask? It's a tax, common in Europe, that is levied on auction houses to give up to 4 percent of art-sale proceeds to the artist and, for 70 years after the artist's death, to his or her heirs. (Shhh... don't tell any American artists, they'll think they're getting screwed. And they'll be right.) Speaking of auction houses, ArtPrice has reported that auction sales have gone up nearly 5 percent in this year's second quarter, giving some hope of a slooooow ongoing recovery. Too bad it's not fast enough for the Met, which told the Art Newspaper that it has had to significantly cut back on future megawatt loan exhibitions like the recent Francis Bacon show because they're simply too expensive to produce.
EVEN MORE GOOD NEWS (EXCEPT IN HACKNEY)
There's a bunch of good museum news this week, though. New York's Department of Cultural Affairs has announced that a plan instituted in 2007 to have grants for city non-profits determined by a peer review has worked in terms of leveling the field and giving the bigger spaces enough stability to make long-term plans. The Guggenheim, meanwhile, enjoyed a blockbuster show this summer with its Frank Lloyd Wright retrospective, which brought in 372,000 visitors--making it the highest-attended show in the museum's history. Since the second-highest was the 2001 Frank Gehry survey, we can safely expect to see more where that came from. (Louis Kahn, anyone?) Over in England, the tiny Bristol Museum shockingly almost tied the Guggenheim with its Banksy show, which drew over 300,000 visitors and boasted six-hour lines on the final day. The city of Bristol--which brought in $16.4 million due to the show--is continuing on the road to becoming Banksyland by proclaiming that pieces of street art found there will from now on be put to a public vote to decide if they should be kept as public artworks or erased. Since they say "unsightly" graffiti tags will be eliminated on sight, they may be headed for some tricky navigation of what's art and what's not. Maybe they should deputize some pigeons. A few towns over in Hackney, though, no pigeons were necessary for that city's authorities to decide to paint over a Banksy without even contacting the owner of the building it was on.
DISTURBING THE PIECE
In other graffiti and assorted illegal-art news, 17-year-old graffiti artist Cartrain was arrested after stealing a box of pencils from Damien Hirst's $16 million Pharmacy art installation at Tate Britain. Cartrain had feuded with Hirst earlier when the YBA impounded several collages he had made of the For the Love of God skull, and the kid tried to use the stolen pencils as a bargaining chip to get back the artworks. Not smart. Having returned the pencils and now out on bail, he stands to be charged with one of the most valuable modern-art thefts in British history. In New York, meanwhile, authorities say Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara has completed his six-month probation for drawing a smiley face on an East Village subway station wall in February. Since the drawing could have been worth $10,000 if preserved, maybe next time the cash-strapped MTA won't erase it. In Sweden, an art student was fined $343 after re-staging an actual near-suicidal breakdown she had on a bridge in Stockholm as her final academic art project, causing the police to arrest her and then forcing eight psychiatric orderlies to restrain her--all in a stated attempt to throw light on treatment at mental health institutions.
TALES FROM THE NAKED ART WORLD
On the non-criminal acting-out front, Kara Walker got in trouble for not delivering a promised artwork to the Whitney Houston-themed "Whitney's Biennial" at Brooklyn's C.R.E.A.M. Projects. Feeling guilty, she submitted her lack of a submission as her piece, titling it My Absence and My Shame. Sean Lennon, in a fairly tasteless but admittedly sexy stunt, had Purple magazine photographer Terry Richardson capture him and his nude girlfriend Kemp Muhl in a reverse of the cuddly position in which Annie Leibovitz immortalized his parents, John and Yoko, for Rolling Stone. Finally, paranoid, fear-mongering Fox News pseudo-preacher Glenn Beck spent a 9-minute segment using examples of Communist and allegedly pro-Mussolini art at John D. Rockefeller's United Nations Plaza and Rockefeller Center as the basis for an attack on liberals, claiming that they (like the progressive Rockefeller, and by implication Obama and everyone who voted for him) secretly love mass-murdering Fascists. (Watch the video below.) In response, New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz challenged Beck to curate two art shows at as-yet-unnamed prestigious New York venues, one show featuring reproductions of other city artworks the dangerous TV clown wants to condemn to destruction, and the other featuring works of contemporary art he actually likes. Stay tuned.